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Siraa Fil-Wadi (Struggle in the Valley)

Posted by martinteller on October 27, 2013

In an Egyptian valley, two different factions compete in sugar cane production.  One is run by the wealthy and powerful Pasha (Zaki Rostom) and his thuggish nephew Riad Bay (Farid Shawqi).  The other is run by the peasants.  For years, the Pasha’s crop has been of superior quality and fetched higher prices.  But the young upstart Ahmed (Omar Sharif) is a bright agricultural engineer whose talents have improved the peasants’ sugar to the number one position… despite the fact that Ahmed’s father (Abdel Waress Assar) happens to work for the Pasha.  The Pasha and Bay secretly destroy their crops, but the plan escalates to the point where it involves murder and the framing of Ahmed’s father for the crime.  Now Ahmed struggles to prove his father’s innocence, and the Pasha’s daughter Amal (Faten Hamama) stands by him in her love for him, unaware of her father’s involvement.

I keep hoping for a Youssef Chahine film as gripping and memorable as Cairo Station.  This movie (also known as The Blazing Sun) isn’t it, not only because it lacks the same twisted psychosexual themes, but because the noble peasants vs. greedy landowner thing is all too easy and simplistic (although it does take on a modicum of nuance towards the end).  However, it’s not bad.  It seems a bit routine at first, but really ramps up as it goes on.  The last 40 minutes are pretty intense, a whirlwind of activity involving revenge and twists and high melodrama, culminating in a deadly standoff among majestic ruins and tombs.  The characters may be thinly sketched, but the performances are strong enough to make them quite watchable.

Speaking of performances, this is Sharif’s first-ever onscreen role, long before his English debut in Lawrence in Arabia.  Right off the bat he slips into the leading man role with fiery intensity and stark nobility.  Shawqi is an imposing figure, and his brutishness would later be put to use in Cairo Station.  As with that later film, there is some excellent cinematography, especially as it approaches the climax.  Among a number of compelling shots is one that was perhaps borrowed directly from Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole.

While not especially sophisticated thematically, there’s a noir-esque tone to the film that complements the drama well.  Rating: Very Good (82)


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